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"They fly now?"
"They fly now!?"
"They fly now"

One of the most iconic characteristic of dragons is their ability to fly, on top of that, my intelligent (human level) dragons also use a fun chemical, called "Királyvíz" as their breath weapon.

enter image description here
(Real királyvíz doesn't actually look different than this)

Királyvíz1 is a mixture of sugar, spice and everything nice (with a hint of Professor X). It's signature ability is to chew through even golden experience2 and star platinum with ease. It also produces chlorine gas as a side-effect. On top of that, the reaction-speed of királyvíz can be increased by upping the temperature, something that naturally occurs in flying creatures, it's called waste heat.

Now, dragons can only use powered flight for a very short time, like giant pterosaurs. Their gliding capability is on the same level as for the Quetzalcoatlus northropi. They're roughly at around the size of a large horse, but their longer necks, tail and larger head tends to make them look bigger.

Given that, would it (gliding flight) confer advantage to a dragon, fighting humans, given they are both trying to kill each other and the human band (at around 5 in number) has crossbows, which can wound and potentially kill dragons? The outlined situation is just a point of reference.

1: Aqua Regia
2: Alchemists, who are also fans of JoJo, sometimes use names from the manga instead of the actual element, to avoid revealing secrets to outsiders

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    $\begingroup$ Real aqua regia is reddish orange. (Not that it matters.) $\endgroup$ – AlexP Jan 19 at 23:29
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexP Only after you dissolved gold in it. $\endgroup$ – Mephistopheles Jan 20 at 4:37
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    $\begingroup$ Note that "diving" at great speed - picture an eagle "swooping" in for the kill - is in fact gliding. $\endgroup$ – Fattie Jan 20 at 19:40
  • $\begingroup$ Air to surface and air to air combat usually happens by an aircraft first collecting potential energy by slowly climbing to great heights (too high to reach by ground weapons), then the aircraft would dive towards its target to gain high speed by trading off potential energy into kinetic energy (too fast to be aimed at effectively), unleash its weapons, then quickly pulling up again before losing too much energy (too far away/high to reach by weapons). This minimises the amount of time the aircraft is in danger zone. $\endgroup$ – Lie Ryan Jan 21 at 7:38
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Gliding doesn't burn much energy

An albatross can fly non stop for days simply by gliding. For something as large as a dragon, powered flight would use massive amounts of energy, which means gliding is vitally important to avoid becoming exhausted far too quickly.

The dragon would still be gliding in combat. The dragon might have two to five minutes of powered flight, so it would use a few seconds here and there to gain lift and stay in the air. A dragon fighting another dragon would be as much about wearing each other out as fangs or flames.

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    $\begingroup$ Yeah, that's clear, but what about combat? $\endgroup$ – Mephistopheles Jan 19 at 22:30
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    $\begingroup$ You'd still be gliding in combat. You might have two to five minutes of powered flight so you use a few second here and there to gain lift and stay in the air. A dragon fighting another dragon would be as much about wearing them out as fangs or flames. $\endgroup$ – Thorne Jan 19 at 22:49
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    $\begingroup$ For example, drones in real life ended up being a Big Deal because, even though a manned jet would knock them out of the air pretty easily, their multi-day loiter times are tactically super handy. $\endgroup$ – Zwuwdz Jan 20 at 0:53
  • $\begingroup$ This is particularly important in combat as you can't fight until the tank is empty, you need enough powered flight left over to A ) get far enough away to safety, B) dodge attacks until you are safely far enough away. Likely youll only want to spend about 25% of your energy on the actual fight as in order to retreat you need to fly faster and further than the person chasing you which will have to be powered flight $\endgroup$ – J.Doe Jan 20 at 12:47
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    $\begingroup$ Extending the drone comment, the dragon being able to loiter for a long time by gliding out of range means it's more likely to catch the hunters in a moment of vulnerability. A crossbow doesn't help much when you're caught eating lunch or trudging through mud or just plain old exhausted $\endgroup$ – Pingcode Jan 20 at 13:03
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I'd like to answer this question with a real-world example: Lionel Messi. Stats have shown that Messi runs for roughly 5% of a given game. Despite this, this man is breaking records - he's 5-time Ballon d'Or champion! So how does he do it, and what are the advantages of just walking/slow-jogging around as opposed to running all the time?

  1. Energy conservation: Even if he could/wanted to, there's no reason for him to waste energy and end up exhausted. If he gets too tired mid-match, he might perform badly and gasp miss a few goals!
  2. Injury prevention: Similar to above, he's trying to not pull a muscle - a successful football career is a marathon, not a sprint.
  3. Strategy: This man isn't just randomly ambling about - he's watching how the players on the other team move and wants to make sure he can predict what they'll do next. This way he can exploit their weaknesses and make this game more of a math than a sport.

The combination of above factors means that if done properly, the 5% of a game that Messi spends running is brutal for the other team's goalie, because he can strike more precisely with a greater guarantee of success.

So make your dragons behave like Messi - let them glide about from above and have a good view and understanding of a battle. Once they have a plan in mind, they can strike with lethal effectiveness.

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    $\begingroup$ I like this answer. I think Thorne's answer is better because he picks a closer analogy (albatross) than you do (Messi). But the implications are the same. $\endgroup$ – SRM Jan 20 at 4:39
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    $\begingroup$ …so the dragon needs ten other creatures doing all the hard work while he’s gliding above and waiting for his chance… $\endgroup$ – Holger Jan 21 at 8:15
  • $\begingroup$ @SRM yeah I realize that using a predatory bird definitely makes more sense / is more relatable to people's lives. In fact, I'd say using hawks or condors would be an even better example as they're known for being true apex predators in their domain. Or even pterodactyls but I realize they weren't physically capable of swooping down and making an attack like birds can. $\endgroup$ – cyber101 Jan 23 at 17:32
  • $\begingroup$ @Holger lol was waiting for someone to say that - war is chaotic so you can assume that the '10 other people' is just the chaos of war ;) - or maybe other dragons who saw other chances to strike. $\endgroup$ – cyber101 Jan 23 at 17:33
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    $\begingroup$ @Holger I think Cyber101 is saying that "war is Messi"... :-) $\endgroup$ – SRM Jan 23 at 19:28
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Gliding flight would be useful in combat by keeping them stable in flight and therefore more accurate with their breath weapon. Expending less energy would also be good in of itself, as the dragon would want to conserve its strength for when it has to dogfight or escape

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  • $\begingroup$ This is a good answer, but I think it is secondary to Thorne's answer about energy consumption. This is one of those times when I wish it was possible to combine answers. Would you mind if your text was added to Thorne's answer (assuming Thorne is likewise ok with the addition)? $\endgroup$ – SRM Jan 20 at 4:38
  • $\begingroup$ this is an excellent point. in fact you'd almost certainly have to glide for stable detail shots (whether from the beast or a rider). great answer! $\endgroup$ – Fattie Jan 20 at 19:41
  • $\begingroup$ @SRM sure, I don’t mind at all $\endgroup$ – NixonCranium Jan 20 at 20:50
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Given that, would it (gliding flight) confer advantage to a dragon, fighting humans, given they are both trying to kill each other and the human band (at around 5 in number) has crossbows, which can wound and potentially kill dragons? The outlined situation is just a point of reference.

An advantage as compared to what? Walking?

The answer is: yes, flying is much better than walking!

You say that your dragons are "roughly at around the size of a large horse" and have gliding abilities similar to Quetzalcoatlus northropi. So let's compare the numbers on a horse, a Q. northropi, and a Grob G103 glider.

  • Weight: Horse: 800 kilograms. Q. northropi: Unknown. Glider: 500 kilograms.
  • Length: Horse: 2.5 meters. Q. northropi: 8 meters. Glider: 8.1 meters.
  • Wingspan: Horse: 0 meters. Q. northropi: 10 meters. Glider: 17.5 meters.

Let's start by assuming that your dragon's weight, size, and general aerodynamic characteristics are identical to those of the Grob G103. What can your dragon do?

Well, to start with, she can fly around at 100 km/h, while only losing 75 centimeters of height per second. This means that if she starts at a height of 2,000 meters, she can fly at this speed for about 45 minutes without expending a significant amount of muscular effort. That's great for flying over humans without getting hit: if I have to go near humans armed with crossbows, I'd much rather be in the air, flying at 100 km/h, and turning randomly, than on the ground running.

And that's ignoring the fact that on a sunny day, your dragon can find columns of rising air (produced by warm spots on the ground) and use them to stay up for hours.

But can a dragon use gliding flight to kill a human? Absolutely.

The maximum permissible speed of the Grob glider is 250 km/h. (Any faster, and it's at risk of shaking itself apart.) It's easy for your dragon to attain this speed: she just has to dive, starting from at least about 500 meters up. Having attained that speed, a nice and easy way to kill the humans would be just dropping some rocks on them. Humans don't stand up very well against 250 km/h rocks.

After having dropped rocks on the humans, your dragon can climb back up and do it again. And that's without using any additional energy. But how many times, exactly?

If there were no drag on the dragon, decelerating from 250 km/h to 100 km/h would allow her to climb 400 meters. I don't quite remember enough from my calculus classes to figure out the exact amount of drag, but I did a couple of back-of-the-envelope calculations, and it's reasonable to guess that after climbing and doing a second bomb run, she'll have about 280 meters' worth of kinetic energy remaining. Subsequent attacks will use less energy, so she may have 180 meters' worth of energy after the third, 100 after the fourth, and 40 after the fifth, possibly leaving her with enough energy to make a sixth dive-bombing attack.

Let me repeat that for emphasis. Gliding flight will allow your dragon to "dive-bomb" the humans about five or six times before having to land.

Now, a wingspan of 17.5 meters gives you an awfully big dragon, and I don't know if you could get away with only 500 kilograms for an animal that big. But let's cut both of those numbers in half, giving you a wingspan of 9 meters and a weight of 250 kilograms. That's very similar to both the wingspan and estimated weight of Q. northropi, so you're in business. What effect will this have on the dragon's aerodynamic characteristics? Slim to none! Reducing both the weight and the wingspan by proportional amounts doesn't have much effect on aerodynamics, so all of the above numbers are still valid, with no changes.

My advice to the humans, by the way, is to stand near some trees.

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  • $\begingroup$ If you are dropping rocks, then the dragon has to either be carrying enough rocks for all six attacks (a lot of extra initial weight) or pick up new rocks after each attack meaning the dragon has to come close to landing reducing climb and allow moments of vulnerability to the humans. (which might be better for story-telling). However using the OPs breath-weapon should equate better with the figures as given. $\endgroup$ – Dragonel Jan 21 at 16:37
  • $\begingroup$ Oh right, I wasn't thinking about the difficulty of carrying all the rocks. Counterintuitively, the extra weight is likely to help more than it hurts: a gliding dragon carrying rocks has more kinetic and potential energy than a gliding dragon without rocks, and the dragon merely has to fly faster to compensate for the weight. But it's still awkward to carry all those rocks in such a way that they can be dropped or accurately thrown as needed. (Do dragons wear backpacks in this universe?) Of course, yeah, the breath weapon is probably the way to go; I was forgetting about that. $\endgroup$ – Tanner Swett Jan 21 at 17:22
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Gliding flight vastly increases the angles of attack you can use during combat. Instead of being forced to walk up to your enemies and potentially get riddled with crossbow bolts, you can simply dump the chemical on them while strafing like a bombing run and fly off before anyone can retaliate. Flying low means your enemies have to be constantly looking both on the ground and in the air to figure out where you've gone, which means they have to waste time looking in more places where you aren't instead of just a 360 degree radius around them.

However, azdarchid pterosaurs like Quetzalcoatlus weren't really the best at gliding flight. They were really good at terrestrial walking, really good at long distance, energy-efficient flight, but not so good at the stuff in-between. They've been compared to large flying birds today like swans, geese, bustards, and storks. It's thought that azdarchids would have spent most of their time on the ground feeding, probably only taking flight if threatened by a predator or if they were migrating to a new feeding ground. Of course once they did take flight they could probably fly for extreme distances and long periods of time, especially if they caught thermals, but flight for them was an "only if you absolutely have to" kind of thing.

That's not to say there might not be better analogues. Bustards and turkeys are known to have more gliding flight than anything else.

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Would gliding flight confer advantage to a dragon?

Short Answer:

Yes

Long Answer:

I have a few questions about the breath weapon:

Is the chlorine gas expelled from the dragon or does it stay within them internally?

If it does get expelled that's yet another hazard for the humans and possibly other dragons. In humans low levels of chlorine causes irritation to the eyes and skin. High levels of chlorine can cause perminant lung damage and cause fluid buildup.

The reaction-speed of királyvíz can be increased by upping the temperature:

Fantastic, you've already identified waste heat from flight. But how about environmental factors?

We believe that Quetzalcoatlus northropi would use the weak thermal pockets over the ocean to extend its glide over the ocean to reach the mating grounds or better feeding areas. See this well informed National Geographic article.

If you are going to have this as a factor in your world then it could be a perfectly good reason why you are more likely to find dragons in deserts or near volcanos.

Dragon vs Humans:

Undoubtably, even at a gliding speed you are easily going to outpace a human on foot. Also, trying to aim a crossbow at a dragon and successfully land a shot, nevermind a crippling one would be massively difficult task. Although made easier by it being a crossbow and not a longbow it's still quite a feet and would take years of training to master. Check out this link for other factors that come inot play with the use of crossbows. To this day people find it difficult to capture pictures of moving targets and/or shooting them even after many years of practice and with fast high impact weapons. Now try that with something you very rarely get the chance of seeing/practicing on as well as potentially fighting back and you're in for one difficult time indeed.

Going back to the chlorine note, if you thought firing a crossbow at a moving target was difficult. Try it while your eyes are burning.

Infact once we add all of your ideas together gliding, Királyvíz and human intelligence. It makes these dragons almost impossible to take down. Realstically to hunt a dragon as a human would take weeks and you would be looking to scare it down to a cool, flat open area for the best advantage.

Finally, environment comes into play here again. What weather are we fighting in? If it's dense fog with very little tree cover then humans have little to no chance of seeing the dragon until it's too late. Whereas a clear day with very little cloud coverage could lead to the dragon being exposed.

Dragon vs Dragon:

This brings in an interesting element to dragon vs dragon fights as it brings on endurance chases. Sure a big brawny muscular dragon may beat another in a fight but if you can "outglide" your opponent then it could reinforce the flight element in the dragons personalities and explain why they are rarely seen. (If that is your plot.) Another thing is that it would reinforce long distance flights and explain why the dragons never grew bigger than a certain size.

If you are looking to make these dragons less powerful. You could make it so that the buildup of királyvíz is quite uncomfortable for the dragons so they tend to stick to cooler climates.

Advantages:

  • Harder to hit,
  • Conserves energy [Can travel long distances without rest],
  • Adds to stealth,
  • Easier to flee,
  • Transport young/Eggs away from threats quickly,
  • Aerial attacks.

To name a few.

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Similar to gliding flight, diving is an unpowered flight pattern that would be massively advantageous to a dragon.

Hawks, eagles, and all kinds of other predator birds use dives to increase their speed, stealth, and ability to attack something without it having the reaction time to prevent the strike. Diving by bringing the wings into the body also reduces the cross section a counter-attack can be successful against. Combining the smaller profile with a fast moving target, and you get a really difficult target to defend against, even if it is about the size of a horse.

The Peregrine falcon can reach amazing dive speeds. If your dragons can come close to that, it would be nearly impossible to hit with anything except a lucky or extremely well placed shot. Defenders would be reduced to using flack, like in WWII, which damaged the ground almost more than it did air forces. If you only have bows and crossbows, you'd have to send up a considerable volley to attempt a hit, and if you only have 5 of these, you likely aren't going to inflict serious damage.

The Peregrine is renowned for its speed, reaching over 320 km/h (200 mph) during its characteristic hunting stoop (high-speed dive),[4] making it the fastest bird in the world and the fastest member of the animal kingdom.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peregrine_falcon

Gravity becomes an enemy here. The British later estimated that some 25 percent of civilian casualties from German World War II bombing attacks on their cities, were from friendly fire. That is, British anti-aircraft shells eventually falling back to earth, causing property damage and casualties.

https://www.quora.com/Did-anti-aircraft-flak-falling-from-the-sky-ever-kill-people-on-the-ground-in-World-War-II

There are plenty of movie and book references that show dragons using this tactic, so I don't think I have to prove my point there.

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